Cult Movie: Used Cars is a coarse comedy worth taking for a spin

Would you buy a second-hand car from this man?
Would you buy a second-hand car from this man?

Used Cars

THE big American comedy of 1980 was Airplane! – everything else was lost in that joke-laden jumbo’s considerable tail wind and Used Cars was one such comic casualty.

An early offering from director Robert Zemeckis, who would shortly hit serious pay dirt with the likes of Back To The Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, it’s a broad and basic screwball comedy that spoofs the world of car salesmen with a full throttle, if slightly unhinged, passion.

As a relentless send up of persuasive salesman patter and the outright lies they’ll spout in the hope of getting you to buy your dream motor – which turns out to be a clapped-out banger the moment you drive it off their premises, naturally –­ it has no equal.

It’s a little rough round the edges and perhaps a tad coarse for some tastes, but it is funny – and when we’re talking about a comedy film that’s got to be a good thing, right?

These days, Used Cars boasts a considerable cult reputation, but it still deserves a chance to garner some love from a much wider audience. Perhaps the new Blu-ray released by Eureka Entertainment this month will do just that.

A fresh-faced Kurt Russell plays Rudy Russo, an unscrupulous Phoenix-based used car salesman who has the gift of the gab and a penchant for sports jackets so offensive and loud they should have an ASBO slapped on them. Thing is, the bold Russo also fancies himself as a local politician but needs $10k to get his campaign off and running.

With that in mind, he starts cooking up all manner of schemes to drive punters to the New Deal car lot of his ageing boss Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden) and away from the rival car business across the road, run by Luke’s corrupt twin brother Roy A Fuchs (also played by Warden).

As the battle escalates and Roy winds up dead in mysterious circumstances, all hell breaks loose – and it’s a case of every salesman for himself.

Along the way, Luke’s estranged daughter Barbara (Deborah Harmon) turns up to help save her dad’s business and add a little love interest to the plot but, like most 80s comedies, this is a mainly male dominated world where females are all too often little more than playthings for the leads to circle around.

There is occasional nudity, plenty of half-crazed car stunts and even the odd appearance of familiar faces like Michael McKean and Al Lewis to enjoy, while Russell is excellent as the smarmy salesman at the film’s screwball core.

At times, it all feels a little cynical in its satire, yet Used Cars remains a fast and furious joyride of a movie that crams plenty of genuine belly laughs and outrageous set pieces into its 113 minute running time.

Zemeckis would go onto much bigger and better things but this is still a fascinating little vehicle for his early directing skills and remains a nifty little runaround that’s well worth taking out for at least one swift test drive.